Monday, March 7, 2011

RJ Reynolds cashes in on Mardi Gras

An advertising campaign for Camel cigarettes has stirred up a Mardi Gras controversy by piggybacking off of the popular festival. Camel’s Break Free Adventure campaign features ten cities across the US in a cross-country tobacco tour. In time for the famed New Orleans Carnival celebration, a wrapper on specialty packs reads, “With a nickname like The Big Easy, the Camel just had to ramble down to N'Awlins to snag a balcony, catch some beads and take in the bourbon-soaked fun below," in a city "where po'boys and Voodoo queens preside over a rich cultural gumbo, and where party people of every kind flock to get down and break free."

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has sent communication to R.J. Reynolds requesting them to, “leave the celebrating of Mardi Gras and New Orleans to families.” While I don’t know about the reality of that request, Landrieu has a point that, "Camel is exploiting both our city's name and our proud history and tradition of Mardi Gras, food, art and music for its own gain and to the detriment of the health of our city's residents."

Of course, tobacco companies have been using these types of psychologically motivated tactics for decades. This is just the latest from the creators of Joe Camel. Alluring images of power, prestige, glamour, fun, amusement, success, vitality and sex appeal create a positive associations between la vie en rose and their products that many find offensive. The fun and exciting, if not glamorous, atmosphere of Mardi Gras would fit creatively well into their vault. Given the history of tobacco advertising, shouldn’t tobacco anticipate backlash as part of the creative process by now? And if so, consider how much RJ Reynolds and friends are thriving on these tactics and the publicity generated by them. Why not try to identify your product with a population that didn’t really want the association when the repercussions are so profitable?

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